Public records letter generator

Since its launch in 1997, our unique letter generator has been used more than 100,000 times to assist journalists and other citizens obtain access to public records maintained by state or local government officials. The Student Press Law Center is happy to provide our letter generator free of charge as a public service..

In most cases, making a verbal request for records is a good first step. A professional but informal request in person may give you the information you need. But in some cases, especially when a verbal request has been denied, a written request letter is the best way to get the information you are seeking.Submitting an open records law request letter is not difficult. A complete, well-written request may help you avoid delays and further correspondence with a government agency.

The form below is designed to help you create a simple letter. It asks you for all pertinent information and guides you through the options available.

You can use this letter generator to request access to records held by a state or local government agency or body (e.g., public school district, city or campus police, state board of health, etc.). If you want to obtain records held by the federal government, we recommend using the letter generator offered by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

In order to complete this form you must be able to provide: a reasonable description of the public records you are seeking and the name and address of the government official who you believe is responsible for keeping those records.

Once you have entered the information requested, a letter will be generated that includes: the specific citation for your state's open records law and how much time the law allows for an agency to respond. Where no time is specified by law, you will see the words "I would request your written response within 10 working days." You may wish to change this. (Where no time is specified by law, most courts have required that government officials respond within a "reasonable time."). Finally, the letter will note any specific penalties provided for by the law should government officials fail to comply with your request. (All generated data was accurate as of January 2010.) You may choose not to include all of this information in every request you make or you may wish to modify the tone of the letter. Use your best judgment about what will best persuade the government record keeper in question to provide you the information you seek.

Part 1: Instructions

All you have to do is fill in all the information and answer the questions on this page. Once you are done, click on the button that says "Create Letter." This will NOT send the letter to the agency for you; instead, it sends back a letter as a Web page that you can save as a document for editing in your word processor, or send directly to your printer. (The options available depend on your Internet browser software.) You should then mail the letter (preferably via certified mail, return-receipt-requested) to the agency or hand deliver it. Note: We do not collect any of the information you submit; none of your data will be recorded by the SPLC.

Feel free to use this as often as you like until you get a letter you are happy with. If you are a student journalist or adviser and have any questions, you can call the Student Press Law Center between 9 a.m. - 6 p.m. (EST), Monday through Friday at (703) 807-1904.

Answer the questions below as if you were providing the information directly to a government office. If a query is actually the start of a sentence, fill in the missing elements of the sentence. If you have never used the letter generator before, you may want to create a short "dummy" letter just to see how it works. It should quickly make sense.

Part 2: Your contact information

Include your title and school/organization.

You should be able to be contacted by this number during the daytime.

Part 3: What you are looking for?

Below, clearly describe what you want. Include identifying material, such as names, places, and the period of time about which you are inquiring. If you think they will help to explain what you are looking for, include news clips, reports and other documents describing the subject of your research when you mail your letter.

I request access to and a copy of ...

Please select the state to which your request is being sent from the list below:
If you choose none, you may have to edit your letter later.

Enter the name and address of the agency/office where you will send this request:

Part 4: Fee Limit

Enter a dollar limit for the amount of fees you are willing to pay. The agency will be told to notify you if the amount will exceed this. If you set an amount up front, the agency will begin to process your request and you can retain some control over the ultimate amount you will have to pay.

Part 5: Getting the Letter

Thank you for using the Student Press Law Center's sample letter service. Once you receive the finished letter (which should be almost immediately after clicking on the button below), you can save it to a file on your computer, send it directly to your printer or cut and paste the text into a word processor document where you can edit it freely and print it out on your news organization's letterhead. If you are printing directly, be sure to remove some of the header options, usually found under a Page Setup menu option on your browser.

If you want to modify your letter, return to this page. You can then modify your answers and resubmit the form. Note that if you choose the "Clear" button below, all the information you typed will be wiped away.

Create Letter